Education And Debate

All Africa conference on tobacco control

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 15 January 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:189
  1. S Chapman,
  2. D Yach,
  3. Y Saloojee,
  4. D Simpson
  1. Department of Community Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney
  2. Australia Essential Health Research Group, Medical Research Council, Pretoria
  3. South Africa Tobacco Action Group, Johannesburg
  4. South Africa International Agency on Tobacco and Health, London
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Chapman, Department of Community Medicine, Westmead Hospital, Westmead NSW 2145, Australia.

    Although the health hazards of smoking are now generally accepted in most Western countries, the arguments have not had much impact on poorer nations. A conference on tobacco control held in Harare, Zimbabwe, in November last year was the largest to tackle this problem. The conference heard how threats of epidemics of tobacco related disease in the distant future held little weight with governments of countries that often already had massive public health problems. More immediate effects needed to be emphasised. Speakers gave three cogent arguments; firstly, the loss of capacity for foreign trade in essential goods, since most African countries are net importers of tobacco; secondly, the extensive deforestation which is occurring to fuel the flue curing of tobacco; thirdly, evidence from Papua New Guinea that raising taxation on tobacco provides governments with increased income for many years before a decrease begins.

    The largest and most important pan-African conference on tobacco control to date took place in Harare, Zimbabwe, on 14-17 November. One hundred and ten delegates from 16 African nations and seven other countries attended, along with a huddle of representatives of tobacco growers. Well before the opening session the organisers knew the conference was being taken very seriously by the tobacco industry. Zimbabwe is the second largest exporter of tobacco leaf in the world and derives more than a quarter of its export earnings from the crop so the political sensitivities surrounding Zimbabwe's hosting of the meeting were acute. Proof of industry concern was contained in a local magazine that commented that “the world's tobacco manufacturers are extremely alarmed [since] the conference will attract a wide cross section of the anti-smoking industry's groupies who are known to be particularly virulent, if not necessarily well- informed.”1

    Symbolically, the opening session was momentarily disrupted by a brass band …

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